The mystery surrounding the death of American writer and poet Edgar Allan Poe provided writers Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare with inspiration to design a narrative that built around the themes and stories of Poe, and have a go at a fictionalized account of Poe's final days, involving a serial killer inspired by Poe's writings, and challenging the writer on a personal front to solve a series of murders, and essentially serving as bait to come get him. For what it is, similar to fictionalized tales of the macabre like From Hell, The Raven contains enough just to skirt around as an alternative to the blockbuster season offerings, and it's always a welcome to see John Cusack, as Poe himself, back on the big screen.
Directed by James McTeigue, The Raven races through its narrative, staying in tune to its main story where it's a race against time for Poe and Detective Fields (Luke Evans) to try and track down the identity of a serial killer taunting them with horrific clues usually made out of his victims, in fashions adapted from Poe's spectrum of gothic stories. Not only that, a personal vendetta got thrown in as well when Poe's beau Emily Hamilton (Alive Eve) got kidnapped, and solving the series of clues will lead to her whereabouts, with death a whisker away if they dilly-dally. With V for Vendetta and Ninja Assassin filled with violent action scenes, McTeigue toned it down a little in The Raven, while still containing dark themes and settings, offers the same amounts of blood but done through Saw inspired death sequences which thankfully the censors here didn't have any issues with, or may have closed their eyes when it mattered, missing everything.
But the point about this film, where the villain gets inspired by the protagonist, actually felt like art mimicking life, and vice versa, where the entire look and feel of The Raven felt like National Treasure meeting Sherlock Holmes, where the characters have to rely on intuition and their deductive abilities in order to race around the city of Baltimore (with Serbia locales doubling up for a very period looking city), filled with sufficient red herrings to keep you guessing until it let the cat out of the bag by an intentional dwelling of a scene that you will go, Ah-Ha! Even John Cusack, one of my favourite actors, looked quite like Nicolas Cage with his receding hair-line and goatee, with expression probably gleaned from watching too many Cage films, going right down to perfecting his mannerisms for the screen. And speaking about derivative, here's not forgetting Alice Eve doing her best rendition of Ryan Reynolds in Buried as well.
Knowing what to expect with The Raven delivering as promised, the film moves on an even keel with excitement brought about by relentless pursuits given the unnamed and unmasked villain almost always being so close to getting caught, but successfully giving our heroes the slip, adding to the suspense and build up. Luke Evans as the proud detective also fit into the role and shared a great chemistry opposite Cusack, as one realized that Poe is probably going to be an asset given his intimate knowledge of the characters and settings he created in the novels that the killer is following almost to the letter.
It doesn't boast as much fight action sequence as Sherlock Holmes as this is more of a demonstration of brains over brawn, but does have its fair share of gory and creepy moments, with cadavers aplenty, with excellent makeup highlighting the grotesque and the morbid. The closing credits though deserve a mention, with stylized graphics and Unkle's Burn My Shadow playing in the background in what I thought was a fitting wrap for an exhilarating adventure ride where we get an imaginary peek into the personal style of a literary giant, his body of works, and pitting him against the bane of creative talents like himself - the plagiarizer with zero originality. Highly recommended!